Wednesday, April 4, 2018

MLK Fifty Years Gone

MLK - 50 Years Gone

                                                                                                                       Patrick Duff inspects the MLK House in Camden
Michael King

There's a lot to be said on this 50th anniversary of the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr..

As James Douglas concluded in his book "Why JFK Was Killed and Why It Matters," the nation, including you and me were in denial over the murder of President Kennedy, and blandly accepted the government's cover-story, which set the stage for the subsequent murders of MLK and Robert F. Kennedy.

Douglas contends that if the accused assassin lee Harvey Oswald wasn't himself killed while in police custody, and JFK's murder was properly investigated and prosecuted, MLK and RFK would not have been killed in the way they were, with set-up patsies to take the fall while we all look the other way.

And I will take that a step further as I believe that if Brian DeBeckwith didn't shoot Medgar Evers in the back as Evers got out of his car after watching JFK give a civil rights speech, and get away with it for decades, then JFK would not have been killed the way he was.

King was killed as he leaned over the railling of a second floor balcony of the Loraine Motel in Memphis, where King was supporting a sanitation workers strike. Well King would be glad to know that those municiple sanitation workers were just awarded $70,000 each when it was noticed that they were the only municiple employees who didn't get a pension. One guy, eighty some years old, who was on strike when King was killed, is still driving a truck today because he didn't get a pension.

King's last words, as he called them down to the band and choir director in the parking lot, was a request for a favorite gospel song "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," that Elvis even covered.

Take My Hand Precious Lord

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm lone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear, precious Lord linger near
When my light is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears and the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my…

All I remember of MLK's death is the riots where young blacks took to the streets, turned over cars, set fires and stores as my father, a Camden policeman, carried my grandmother out of her North Camden house, and she lost everything she had.

While the official investigators continue to blame James Earl Ray, another deranged loner framed for the crime, Loranne Motel cafe proprietor Loyd Jowers has testified in a Memphis trial that the real sniper was a Memphis police lieutenant. Former Oxford professor and British barrister William Pepper brought that trial to court, and wrote a book "Act of State," that sets much of the record straight.

The House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) concluded there was a conspiracy, and then locked away their MLK records for fifty years, records not included in the JFK Act of 1992 that freed the HSCA JFK records, though many of the MLK records are among the batches of JFK Act records released in 2017.

There are a number of MLK connections to South Jersey. King's personal attorney Clarence Jones, was the song of the cook and servants of the wealthy Quaker Lippincott family who owned the Chalfont-Haddon Hall and lived in Longport, where the future attorney for King recalls his first racist experience as a child.

In 1958, as King was studying Ghandi's non-violent civil disobedience tactics in freeing India of British colonial rule, MLK gave a speech to a Cape May, NJ conference of Quaker Friends on using non-violence techniques in the Civil Rights movement to end segregation. On April 4, 1968 Walter Cronkite began his national news cast announcing the death of King, who he called "the Apostle of non-violence in the civil rights movement."

King's first civil act occurred in South Jersey in June 1950 when he was refused service at Mary's Place in Maple Shade, where when King and three friends refused to leave when they were refused service, and the bar owner, a German World War I veteran Ernest Nichols, pulled out a gun, opened the door and fired the gun in the air. That was enough and King and company left but went to the police station where they pressed charges against Nichols for refusing service and weapons violation.

King was assisted in he case by Camden Dr. Ulyssis Wiggins, but the case was dismissed when the parents of three college students who were sitting at the bar pressured their kids not to testify. Today, MLK boulevard in Camden ends at the Delaware River waterfront park named after Dr. Wiggins.

Patrick Duff, a South Jersey car salesman, deserves much of the credit for researching the published records of MLK's time in South Jersey, especially the incident in Maple Shade, where the site of Mary's Place will soon have an historic plaque to recognize what occurred there.

Duff found a copy of the original report signed by "Michael King," as he was yet to be known as Martin Luther King, Jr., and they called him Mike.

That report also lists King's legal address as 753 Walnut Street, Camden, New Jersey, where King and his best friend, fellow Crozier seminary student Walter McCall lived as the row house was owned by McCall's uncle and his cousins lived there.

That row house was boarded up and slated for demolition until Duff called attention to its historical significance and King's friend Rep. John Lewis (D. Ga.) said the house should be preserved for future generations, so they will know the story behind it.

Duff interviewed a number of people who also lived at the house at the same time and they recalled Michael King living there, but that was before he was famous and he was just another guy passing through, a friend of their cousin. King also gave sermons at the local Baptist Church when he lived in the small bedroom in the back of the second floor while one of the sons was away in the Army.

Duff recently came up with a newspaper story about King''s time in Camden that included an interview with the young man who said he just got out of the Army that very day in June 1950 and was still in his uniform when King told him they were going to Maple Shade to get something to eat. The young soldier warned King that he wouldn't get served in Maple Shade, but King replied, "We'll have to change that so we can go anywhere."

So King and his friends went to Maple Shade because they knew they wouldn't get served, and they provoked that incident and wanted to test the relatively recently passed New Jersey state civil rights law that ended segregation.

One of the old houses still standing on MLK Boulevard is the Walt Whitman house, owned and run by the NJ Department of Environmental Protection Agency - Parks and Recreation Department. It is still standing today despite the race riots of the sixties and seventies because of its late caretaker Elizabeth Ray. Ray was a local neighbor who graduated from Rutgers and worked at the Whitman House, where during the height of the riots she stood out front swinging a broom stick at any rioter who came near the place.

Now the NJ state DEP is taking nominations for the 28th annual NJ Historic Preservation Awards [ ], that should be named after Elizabeth Ray and I intend to nominate Patrick Duff for the 2018 Award as I can think of no one more deserving.

As Acting DEP commissioner Catherine R. McCabe has said, "We look forward to honoring the many projects being done in communities across the state to preserve priceless pieces of New Jersey's legacy. Our history is being preserved because of the efforts undertaken by people who are moved to action because they care so much about the indelible mark these places and people have had on their communities. These efforts have contributed significantly to the preservation and understanding of our treasured past."

And nothing fits that description better than MLK's Camden house and the role Patrick Duff played in preserving it and calling attention to an important chapter in King's life that has so far escaped his biographies and the history of the civil rights movement.

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